I saw the Man Up project promoted on social media and knew of the amazing work of Restoke as I had been an audience member at several of their performances in the past. I was interested immediately in the subject matter, it almost called out to me as someone who has been told by others from a young age that I was not masculine.
I had an idea that I wanted to tell the story of my granddad making me a dolls’ house as a Christmas present and how as an adult I viewed that very much as demonstration of his acceptance of my obvious differences from boys the same age.
What I wasn’t anticipating was the fear I would have being in a male dominated environment. As a man who identifies as gay, I have experienced being treated with hostility by straight men and all my insecurities came to the surface.
At the creative workshop I was suddenly very much aware of my inadequacies in the ability to project an external appearance of what stereotypically is seen as masculine and what would make me fit in rather than be an outsider.
I suddenly realised that my maleness was very much not high on the list of characteristics that I felt identified me. On a piece of paper, I was supposed to be writing about how my masculine pride had affected me. Instead I wrote “What am I doing here?”
I was filled with conflict too as I have spent decades carefully constructing an exterior self who isn’t bothered by the remarks of those seeking to highlight my less than masculine qualities and who instead strives to seek strength from my differences and to take pride in them.
It was a steep learning curve for me. I had been guilty of stereotyping a group of men based on my past experience. I was being just as close-minded as the man on the street who shouted ‘queer’ at me.
Those who had come to take part in this project didn’t judge me, or seek to make me inferior. Instead they shared their scars, both mental and physical, of their struggles to be masculine in the eyes of the world.
By the end of the creative weekend I felt that we had grown closer, both emotionally through our shared writing and physically through the movement workshops.
In a relatively short amount of time, I had seen the vulnerabilities of men who had been strangers less than a day before and they had seen mine. We had created a safe, sharing space and had been transformed through a collective experience.
I am proud of what we felt able to share and I am excited about the possibilities of what we can create together.